How to Stop SIM Theft from Increasing Your Fleet Tracking Costs


No one likes fraud. But if you’re a fleet management provider, odds are you and your customers have been stuck footing the bill for data your businesses didn’t actually use—because it was stolen from you.

Whether your GPS trackers plug into OBD II ports or your customers install them outside their vehicles, SIM theft is a common problem for fleet management providers. Just like a stolen credit card, a stolen SIM card often results in fraudulent charges you shouldn’t be responsible for. Some months the charges simply sneak onto your cellular bill. Other times, your costs skyrocket all at once. But thankfully, with the right IoT connectivity solution, SIM card theft is avoidable—or at the very least, the extra data charges are.

In this article, we’ll talk about two ways advanced cellular technologies solve this problem: preventing SIM theft from occurring in the first place, and preventing SIM theft from resulting in increased costs to your business. But before we get into that, let’s talk about why SIM card theft occurs.

Why is everyone stealing your SIM cards?

Why is everyone stealing your SIM cards-1

The main reason people want to steal your SIM cards is to use them in another device—usually just a phone or tablet. Your SIM card gives them access to cellular networks and an unlimited supply of free data. Unfortunately, the people most likely to take advantage of this are drivers. Often stuck with long hours on the road or waiting in random truck stops far from home, drivers may see your GPS tracker’s SIM card as a free supply of cellular data for movies, games, and video calls while they pass the time on their phones.

If your GPS tracker inserts into the OBD II port in a vehicle, drivers and mechanics are likely the only people who have access to it. Some can also be difficult to spot. But you can bet that some drivers are more than willing to spread the word about this “free data” loophole at popular stops. Exterior GPS trackers are more vulnerable, and anyone who knows how to look for them can steal their SIMs. Some people may even use “bug detectors” to identify where a signal is coming from and zero in on your tracker’s location.

As an IoT device, your tracker itself may also be a target for theft. Hackers use any connected device they can get their hands on to create botnets—one of the most prevalent IoT security threats. With a sufficient number of hacked IoT devices, a botnet can launch DDoS attacks to take down major services and websites. (You may recall this happening in recent years to organizations like Netflix and Google.)

But with the right tech, you don’t have to worry about SIM theft. You can prevent it from happening altogether, or at the very least, eliminate the sudden increase to your data charges.

How to prevent SIM theft from happening

SIM Vault-1-1

One of the reasons SIM theft is so common is that SIM cards are so accessible. They’re removable, so people remove them. Drivers can put them back when they’re done using them, creating the illusion that there’s “no harm done” by the theft. 

But as cellular connectivity has evolved, new generations of SIM cards have come in smaller form factors. The most recent iterations are so small that they don’t even need a SIM card slot—you solder them directly onto the circuit board. This makes them far more difficult to remove, especially if someone is trying to avoid causing damage and being detected. Furthermore, even if someone manages to remove it, they can’t simply insert an MFF2 SIM card (also known as an eSIM) into their smartphone.

Want to prevent SIM theft? An MFF2 SIM card defeats the purpose of SIM theft (reusing the SIM), makes it more difficult to remove, and prevents thieves from “hiding” the theft by reinserting it when they’re done.

How to reduce the damage when theft occurs

Maybe you’d prefer not to redesign your GPS tracker to accommodate a new SIM form factor and remove the SIM slot. That doesn’t mean you have to keep footing the bill for SIM theft. As long as your connectivity provider has the technology, you can prevent the SIM from being misused.

Establish IMEI locks

emnify gives you a simple, effective tool to prevent someone from misusing a SIM they’ve removed from your device: IMEI locks. Every device has a unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. An IMEI lock ensures that a SIM card can only be used in a device with a specific IMEI number. If a driver or anyone else removes the SIM card to use in a phone or other device, it simply won’t work. The other device can’t access your data plan, even with one of your SIM cards. Since (in most cases) that’s the whole point of stealing your SIM cards, it can deter people from attempting to steal your cards in the future.

Set your SIMs’ connectivity profile

GPS trackers only need limited communication capabilities—their regular operations use a lot less data than, say, streaming videos. So an additional layer of protection you can implement is restricting your SIMs’ connectivity profiles to the types of communications they need to function. If someone tries to use them for more data-intensive processes than interacting with your fleet management platform, the SIM simply won’t be allowed to use the additional data or interact with other applications. It’s for fleet management, not for Netflix. 

Restrict SMS communications

Some providers, like emnify, let you restrict your SIM cards’ SMS communications, limiting the number of texts they can receive, what kind of messages they can receive, and what devices they can receive them from. So, for example, you could configure your SIMs so that they can only receive SMS texts from an approved device with instructions to configure or reset a GPS tracker.

Control your connectivity

It also helps if you can activate and deactivate your SIMs on demand. emnify’s connectivity management portal lets you see all your SIMs at once, and you can change their connectivity status at will. See a SIM using way too much data (and at hours when your customers likely aren’t operating)? Deactivate it, and flag the anomalous data consumption to your customer. 

Some devices simply aren’t advanced enough to recognize unauthorized communications or approved devices. So to keep you from suddenly racking up charges due to fraudulent usage, emnify enables data plan automation. You can set usage thresholds for your devices, and if the SIM goes over that amount or attempts to use too much at once, its connectivity will be disabled—saving you from bill shock. 

Each of these solutions are effective on their own, and together, they ensure you never lose money to SIM theft again. (As long as your connectivity provider offers them.)

Learn more about lowering costs and increasing margins

Fleet management providers are in a constant battle to reduce costs and improve margins. You have to find every opportunity you can to increase margins. Preventing SIM card theft is just one of many steps you can take to get an edge over your competitors and eliminate unnecessary expenses. In the future, technology like this will be the norm. But right now, it’s a lesser known cost-savings solution.

About emnify

From reliable connectivity and secure remote access to machines to powerful APIs, automated cloud integration and advanced security features, emnify provides you with all the tools you need to deploy and operate your smart machines for predictive maintenance anywhere and at any scale.´

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